Utah in the Twentieth Century

Utah in the Twentieth Century

Utah in the Twentieth Century

Utah in the Twentieth Century

Excerpt

Pick up any map of Utah. Straight lines drawn at right angles demarcate the state, bisecting the landscape without reference to physiographic regions, mountain ranges, lakes, or rivers. Although those lines have a history, they reflect the intent or caprice of nineteenth-century lawmakers rather than the realities of the physical or cultural landscape. Often people have moved across the landscape as if the boundaries did not exist. Mormon settlers in northern Utah's Cache and Bear Lake Valleys did not turn back in their colonizing at the Utah Territory's northern border, nor did they create fundamentally different settlements north of it. Franklin, Whitney, Preston, and Paris—Mormon towns north of the border—possessed similar institutions, public buildings, and layouts to their Utah counterparts south of it like Lewiston, Richmond, Smithfield, Round Valley, and Garden City.

Despite the physiographic and, at times, social irrelevance of boundaries, states do possess distinctive histories and defining cultural and political characteristics. Over time, law and public policy within individual states create contrasting results. Ask the 14 percent of Utahns who cross the state line each year to purchase lottery tickets in Idaho or those who drive to Wyoming to buy contraband bottle rockets or beer with an alcohol content of more than 3.2 percent. Some of the differences seem minor or idiosyncratic. Others alter the social and economic structure more fundamentally. Consider the twin towns of Wendover, Utah, and Wendover, Nevada. West of the border, casinos flush with money pump tax dollars into infrastructure and public education. East of the border, poorly paid service-sector employees in the casinos—many of them immigrants from the Mexican state of Zacatecas—live in substandard housing and send their children to underfunded schools. State policy shapes the lives of residents from the taxes they pay to the schools they attend, the social services they are offered, and the restrictions on their behavior.

Boundaries have been consequential historically, too. After the Idaho legislature enacted a test oath in 1885 disfranchising members of any organization that advocated plural marriage, Mormons north of the Utah line could not vote. Neither Congress nor the Utah legislature took such a drastic step south of the border, although Mormon polygamists were disfranchised by federal law, as were all women in Utah. Such differences provide one significant justification . . .

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